Use of electoral bonds for Delhi polls worries activists

Rue the use of unaccounted money in next month’s Assembly elections

Updated - February 13, 2020 01:17 am IST

Published - January 21, 2020 02:11 am IST - New Delhi

Activists working for electoral reforms said they were disappointed on Monday when the Supreme Court declined to stay the electoral bond scheme of the government, saying that the anonymous donations to political parties through these bonds could continue for the Delhi Assembly elections next month.

A founder of the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), which had filed a plea for stay of the scheme on November 29, 2019, Jagdeep S. Chhokar, said the apex court had asked the Election Commission of India to reply on the stay plea in two weeks.

ECI goes slow

He pointed out that the plea had been filed in November 2019 and the ECI had time since then to give its response. Now, he said, the ADR would continue to push for “early hearing”, given that Delhi elections are on February 8. The Finance Ministry has approved the sale of the 13th tranche of electoral bonds by SBI from January 13 to January 22.

The government’s scheme was meant for Lok Sabha elections, but the sale window for bonds had been opened before State Assembly elections repeatedly, Mr Chhokar said. Under the scheme notified in January 2018, an Indian person or company can buy electoral bonds sold by the State Bank of India and donate to a political party. The identity of the donors are not made public, but the Supreme Court had, in April 2019, asked the parties to give the details of the electoral bonds to the ECI in a sealed cover.

“It is sad that unaccounted money will be used in the Delhi elections,” Mr. Chhokar said.

Lawyer and activist Anjali Bhardwaj said it was “disappointing” that the Supreme Court had not stayed the “opaque electoral bonds scheme”.

“We will now have another election without voters knowing who is funding parties,” she said.

She added that information obtained through the Right to Information has shown that the “government pushed through the scheme despite serious objections raised by the ECI and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI)”.

Ms Bhardwaj said the then-RBI Governor Urijit Patel had said the scheme had the risk of “money laundering, forgery and counterfeiting”, adding that the ECI had said it would be “retrograde step for transparency”.

“The information obtained also showed that after holding a briefing with the Prime Minister on the electoral bond scheme, the proposal for seeking views of political parties and members of the public was dropped. More than ₹6,000 crore has been given to political parties through electoral bonds since January 2018 when the scheme was notified. The ruling BJP has been the biggest beneficiary of the scheme so far. The SBI has refused to divulge the names of those who purchased the electoral bonds under the RTI Act.,” she said.

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